Corbin, KY Firefighter Alleges Conspiracy to Get Him Fired

An unusual case is developing in the city of Corbin, Kentucky.  On October 4, 2010, Firefighter Eric B. Isom, 30, was arrested for allegedly selling fire department property for personal gain. However, the matter is by no means an open and shut case.

The property in question consisted of two blue light bars that had been seized by Corbin Police and given to the Corbin Fire Department. The light bars had been seized by police in May, 2010 as part of a criminal investigation and because the police department had no use of them, they were given to the fire department.

Isom is alleged to have sold the light bars in June 2010 for $125 each, and kept the proceeds. He was arrested and charged with two counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property valued under $500. The light bars have since been recovered by the police.

However, Isom dropped a bombshell on October 7, 2010, when he filed a lawsuit claiming the entire episode was a conspiracy concocted by his Fire Chief  to retaliate against him for disciplining two firefighters who worked under him. The suit alleges that Corbin Fire Chief Barry McDonald, Corbin Police Col. David Maiden and Sgt. Bill Rose were involved in the conspiracy.  Also named in the suit were Mayor Willard McBurney, and Commissioners Bruce Farris, Ricky Lynch, Phil Gregory and Joe Shelton.

The lawsuit states that "The actions complained of herein are wrongful, for an abusive purpose, constitutes and abuse of the criminal process to effectuate the desired termination of the Plaintiff from his employment, for the purpose of defaming the Plaintiff, placing him in a false light …"

Isom claims that he disciplined two employees of the Fire Department who were the friends of the Chief McDonald and at that time the fire chief had "vowed and vocally proclaimed his intention to fire Isom …" He claims he was given the light bars, that everyone in the fire and police department was aware of it, that he had repaired and sold them with the knowledge and consent of all concerned.

The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit the city from taking any disciplinary actions against Isom until the criminal case is resolved. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney fees.

Obviously, it is impossible to determine exactly what occurred in this case, but two things are for certain: most jurisdictions have strict rules concerning the disposition of surplus property, and many firefighters do not understand how stringent those rules are.  According to Corbin City Manager Bill Ed Cannon, city property cannot be given away and any surplus materials can only be disposed in one of two ways: at a public auction or by a public bid.  As a result no public employee, not even the police or fire chief, can give city property away.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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